What is it that makes us want to deconstruct art by units of time? Lists. We love making them. We love arguing over them. And here, on the verge of a new decade, we’re in a position to do the same again. What were the best albums of the past ten years?
Here at AD, we started talking it through and decided we weren’t going to add to the cacophony of lists being put out by various music pubs. There are enough of those. Since the beginning of October, Monday through Friday, we have been featuring posts detailing our favorite albums of the decade. Now with less than two weeks left in the last year of the first decade of the new millennium we are ramping up–highlighting our absolute favorites.
In its infinite forms, soulful music imbues us with a feeling of powerful familiarity or connection, breathing with so many unnameable things that came before it. In its seemingly infinite forms, experimental or post-rock, by definition, attempts to move away from the past, to create new environments, thus departing from familiar notions and feelings. Oftentimes cloaked in an urban silhouette, it can feel cold and harsh as a result. And therein lies the rub. Because while post-rock bands can and have pulled off soulful avant-garde movements before, it’s a difficult proposition. But it’s one that TV on the Radio has boldly confronted time and again, and with bold results, as evidenced by their monumental post-rock soul spin, Return to Cookie Mountain.
Cookie Mountain does indeed conjure urban cityscapes, but it doesn’t feel concrete cold and steel hard. It breathes life into its streets and makes them feel like the byways we’ve all walked before. The simplest explanation for this could be Tunde Adebimpe’s full, soaking voice or Kyp Malone’s penetrating gnarl, but that would probably be unfair to David Sitek’s progressive production. Because the tone of the record is set by his lead of the music, a lead the others fluidly follow. Whether the frenetic light speed of “Wolf Like Me” or the down-tempo thinker “A Method,” the production confidently places itself in the foreground, alongside Adebmipe and Malone’s contemplative poetry. As Adebimpe’s howl pulls a draft through the opening of “Province” (with eventual backing vocals from David Bowie), percussion and guitar are whisked into being right along with it. The music isn’t something over which the vocals are draped. It lends more than body to the songs. It at once fills and consumes them. It is empowered by them just as they are by it.
But let’s also not diminish the power of voice here, as well. For instance, the frenetic vertigo of “Wolf Like Me,” one of the most spellbinding songs of the decade, is aided as much by Adebimpe’s vocal sprint, itself becoming a powerful instrument. And that’s the sort of balance throughout that TV on the Radio consistently strike. It can be hard to pull that off in a form that’s tinkering and experimenting with non-melodies and new rhythms. Post-rock creators can get so enmeshed in aesthetic or atmosphere, that substance sometimes runs just skin deep. But Cookie Mountain’s soul burns from the inside first before even reaching surface level, when it then boils over. words/ j crosby